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Dolphins’ “D” hangs tough, but Pats get the “W”

Sunday, December 02, 2012

 

Staying focused on the task at hand isn’t always easy to do. Unless, of course, Tom Brady is your quarterback.

Behind Brady’s 24-40 for 238 yard performance, which included one TD and an interception, and a running game that came alive in the 4th quarter, New England took care of the business at hand Sunday in South Florida. The Patriots beat back a spirited Dolphin defensive effort to win 23-16 at Sun Life Stadium.

It sure seemed as if the Dolphins would be in for a long day at the start. Following an opening-drive mishandled punt attempt by Miami deep in their end of the field, the Patriots needed just five plays to travel 12 yards for the score – with Stevan Ridley taking it in from two yards out for the 7-0 lead.

Miami’s defense never really let Brady get settled in the pocket, and when he did have time, threw a few wrinkles at him in the secondary as well. Reshad Jones picked off a Brady pass intended for Aaron Hernandez late in the quarter – the first pick off of Brady since Week Six in Seattle (in 202 pass attempts). The Dolphins managed a 44 yard field goal from Dan Carpenter to pull within 7-3.

That would be as close as Miami would get, however. Underdogs generally need to play perfect – or at least near-perfect football – to beat favorites, and the Dolphins were far from perfect. Several ill-timed penalties, coupled with turnovers, snuffed out any real momentum Miami tried to muster throughout. The Patriots took a 14-3 lead in the 2nd quarter on a seven-yard pass from Brady to Wes Welker, capping a 75-yard drive…and stretched the lead to 17-3 after a Vince Wilfork fumble recovery set up Stephen Gostkowski for a 43 yard field goal.

The Dolphins did put together a 12-play, 80 yard drive (6:28) before the end of the first half, capped off by QB Ryan Tannehill’s two-yard TD run to make it 17-10 at halftime.

Again, the Miami defense corralled a potential NE scoring drive to open the third quarter, with Cameron Wake whipping Sebastian Vollmer and sacking Brady for a six yard loss at the Dolphins’ 39. But while the offense couldn’t score, that “D” kept Miami close…pinning the Pats deep near their own end zone, hoping for a Patriots’ mistake.

It never really came.

On the first play of the 4th quarter, Brady found Hernandez for 31 yards to set up a potential score, but the Miami defense once again made two big plays, two QB sacks sandwiched around a Welker drop in the end zone, keeping NE from the touchdown. A 32-yard Gostkowski field goal stretched the lead to 20-10 with 13:16 to play.

There wasn’t any let up from the Dolphins at this point, however. Tannehill led his offense right down the field on a 65 yard drive, including a gutsy run on his own to set up a first down conversion on a 4th down play, but a Jerod Mayo sack forced a 33-yard Carpenter field goal to pull Miami back within seven.

It wouldn’t matter. Starting with the ball at their own 20, Brady led the offense in a clock-chewing march that never let the Dolphins have a real crack at the upset. After 16 plays and grinding more than seven minutes off of the clock, Gostkowski nailed his third field goal of the day (from 21 yards) for a two-possession lead, and a 23-13 advantage.

Miami did move the ball into position with less than a minute to play to kick a 42 yard field goal with :39 seconds left, but an on-sides kick attempt was covered by Brandon Lloyd to snuff out the last-gasp effort.

With the 23-16 win, the Patriots become the first team to clinch a division title in 2012, winning the AFC East and assuring themselves of at least one home game in the playoffs. Which of course was the task at hand, above all else.
 

 

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